The Cost of Missed Opportunities


As an avid Syracuse University athletics fan, I’m still smarting over the loss of our men’s basketball team in the NCAA Elite 8 tournament. There were many missed opportunities in rebounding and shooting that snarled players’ performance.  In the end, those missed opportunities cost the team a big game.

That’s not strictly a sports story. Missed opportunities play havoc as well in business. Indecision, or, not taking the opportunity to make a decision, has its own costs – and those costs sometimes exceed that of an even bad decision.

As consultants, clients often come to us to help them make a decision. They invest time and money in our services. We collect data, make recommendations and create action plans.  Sometimes, despite the investment of time, money, and compelling research, a client elects to do nothing. Among their reasons: “It’s not the right time because we’ve got so much on our plates,” they tell us. “Let’s wait until after the executives’ offsite meeting,” they say. The bottom line: It’s a missed opportunity. And there’s always a cost to the organization.

Here’s an example: Rather than make a decision on a strategic engagement plan to improve communication with employees at a company undergoing significant reorganization and work restructuring, a client took no action. As a result, over a six-month period, changes swirled, as did uncertainty—and workforce productivity and morale suffered. Instead of being positioned to move ahead smartly, the leadership team now appears to have been unprepared, behind the curve and playing catch up. It has taken a toll on trust and teamwork.

Making decisions rank high on a leader’s list of responsibilities. How can you avoid the consequences of indecision? Here are four tips to help you be more effective:

No. 1: Seek out and take advantage of opportunities to build relationships. Being an effective leader is all about your ability to effectively communicate with others. When people know you as an individual, the job of communicating is much easier. Exceptional leaders understand this. Pick up any popular business book and you’ll find a discussion about how good communication played a key role in that individual’s – and, by extension, their organization’s – success.

No. 2: Don’t wait for “things to settle down,” or “let’s see how the earnings are next quarter.” Read the tea leaves of the moment, and gain new perspective by seeking out others’ perspectives, ideas and advice. Look, listen, learn. A broader perspective, that is enriched from the input of valued customers, trusted suppliers, middle managers and front-line employees, can improve your confidence and capability as a decision maker. An effective leader mines and uses solid data—and occasionally some gut—to make decisions.

No. 3: Be courageous. Decisions rarely please everyone, so don’t let popularity blur your focus. As Jack Welch writes in one of my favorite business books, Winning, “Leaders have the courage to make unpopular decisions….Obviously tough calls spawn complaints and resistance. Your job is to listen and explain yourself clearly but move forward. Do not dwell or cajole.” Firm, but fair rates high when my firm polls employees on leadership traits they most value.

No. 4: Keep moving forward. When a decision goes south, a good leader doesn’t stand by and watch the wreckage smolder. That leader seeks to understand why, learn and then move forward. Lessons learned often ignite performance improvements.

Make a decision today to make a decision the next chance you get. The cost of missed opportunity can be exorbitant—to your credibility, to on-the-job relationships and to business performance.  Don’t risk it to indecisiveness.

Linda Dulye is internationally recognized for helping many companies go spectator free. A former communications leader for GE and Allied Signal, Linda established Dulye & Co.  in 1998 with a practical, process-driven approach for improving communications and collaboration through an engaged workforce— a formidable competitive advantage, that she calls a Spectator-Free Workplace™.